Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.
What an irony that a book which holds, loss, filth, loot, stomp, cruelty, disorientation, putrefaction, injustice, helplessness, murder, rape, misery, nakedness, abandonment, death and unimaginable suffering in its bosom, left me with a climactic emotion of beauty, overwhelming beauty. Beauty of what you ask? That of resilience, that of courage, that of insurmountable human spirit which perhaps hits its zenith when it is brutally pinned to the bottommost pit.
Blindness has a chilling plot – a city where people start going blind, without a warning or faintest history. A man behind a car, a robber escaping from the back door, an ophthalmologist reading reference book, a call girl in the midst of making love – this moment, they are going about their business and the next, they are blind. As this terrifying infliction gains the proportion of an epidemic in shuddering no time, the state machinery jumps into action by hoarding the blind and the contaminated and dispatching them to a quarantine. The events that unfold thenceforth grow into a numbing testimonial of limits that humankind pushes with the weakest of hands but the strongest of beliefs.
Saramago slits his heart and lets the blood do the talking, for how else does one explain the impeccable conjuring of a land that is crumbling under the consistent attacks of physical needs and rising from the tireless crenellating of mental walls, at the very same instance?
With the passing of time, as well as the social evolution and genetic exchange, we ended up putting our conscience in the colour of blood and in the salt of tears, and, as if that were not enough, we made our eyes into a kind of mirror turned inwards, with the result that they often show without reserve what we are verbally trying to deny.”
The blind stay close and maintain proximity akin to a herd of helpless antelopes; always alert but not without a sinking feeling of falling prey, eventually. In the midst of this nebulous blindness, food makes a demand and water makes a cry, shit gets spilled and showers run dry. Bullies emerge from within them, like ugly exhalations of a poisonous body, often unaware of its obvious power of self-destruction.
Arriving at this point, the blind accountant, tired of describing so much misery and sorrow, would let his metal punch fall to the table, he would search with a trembling hand for the piece of stale bread he had put to one side while he fulfilled his obligations as chronicler of the end of time, but he would not find it, because another blind man, whose sense of smell had become very keen out of dire necessity, had filched it.
What do we know what we are capable of? Of the high we can inspire ourselves to? Of the lows we can shovel ourselves to? Do we even know that if thrown into the arms of gut-wrenching starvation and mutilation, our lofty ideals can turn evanescent and the feral desire to survive at any cost can reign supreme?
she knew that if it were necessary, she would kill again,
And when is it necessary to kill, she asked herself as she headed in the direction of the hallway, and she herself answered the question,
When what is still alive is already dead.
But it is from these repugnant ashes of human extremities that the human spirit arises. Like a new-born phoenix, it breathes in short puffs but never stops breathing. A fledgling resilience, no matter how threatened, pervades the blind group, who hobble painfully towards a future that is white in their blindness but imaginable in their collectiveness. When a lonely hand is clasped and a crying baby is cuddled, when a single soul performs vigil and the wasted sacrifices, when the timid find voice and the brave, their clan, the world remains no longer white; it regains its colour.
While reading this book, I felt its power in every page, its vulnerability at every turn. In many ways, it was an allegory of life. For every burden placed on our soul, there is a corresponding lever to dispel it. And a consistent persuasion is all it takes to become free. Should that come easy, blessed we are. Should that come with unexpected caveats, memories we will have (or be).
We are already half dead, said the doctor,
We are still half alive too, answered his wife.
[Image courtesy http://www.bonterra.com ]